An interesting debate has picked up on the social media, following an opinion printed in the My Say column of this newspaper. The letter requests the government to reconsider their plan to start a meat-processing unit and slaughterhouses.
The letter, warning that such a cruel act would end the sacred Vajarana Kingdom, has gone down well with people, who are against killing, and are probably vegetarians. There are not many who support the idea.
It is true that we are a Buddhist country and we discourage killing. In fact, every prayer ends with a line, wishing all sentient beings to be free of suffering, forget getting slaughtered. The reality is little different. We, or least many of us, love meat to the extent some cannot eat a meal without meat. Some even steal from neighbours meat that is hung outside to dry.
Sale of meat is banned on auspicious months. And we have at least two such months every year. The intention was to reduce the number of animals slaughtered, but more animals are slaughtered the month before the ban so that people can stock meat. And of course, meat is available and served during the auspicious months.
The issue is now about religious sentiments and economic reality. Bhutan is importing almost all the meat. Last year, we imported meat worth Nu 1.37 billion. That is, excluding the chickens, fishes and the cattle killed for meat in the country. The government is under pressure to limit import of commodities that can be substituted. Vegetables and meat are such commodities. Until recently we imported our meat from India. Now it has stretched to Thailand. This has implications. We have not fully recovered from the INR shortage because of the unfavourable balance of trade.
High on the government’s agenda is import substitution. If we can produce all the meat, except white meat like shrimps and prawns, and vegetables, it will not only stop the outflow of money, but also create jobs in the country. Religion is important, but the pressure is to straighten the economy and create jobs.
Our religion discourages killing. But there is some hypocrisy among those who practise it. We have slaughterhouses in the country, even if we proudly say that we don’t kill to eat. If we stop importing, they will not kill for us. A rush at the meat shops a day before the meat ban is a good indication of our hypocrisy.
While debate is important to reach a good decision, we could look for better solutions. For instance, the ban on serving meat at the dhutroe (crematorium) is practical and logical. And most follow it because it benefits the dead and the living.
Unless most of us give up the craze for shakam and sikam, animals will be slaughtered within or outside the borders for us. It is a difficult choice. Maybe, when we see animals slaughtered on our soil, people will turn to vegetables.
We are all butchers, according to a meat vendor. If we keep rushing for meat, they will kill for us. And there is good money in the business.